In simple terms an 'Ashram' means: A centre for people to gather for the purpose of coming into a deeper spiritual connection with God. Manujothi, the name given to the Ashram, literally means, the ‘Divine Light’ to all mankind. (Manu -Humanity, Jothi -Divine Light.)
A vague notion in the minds of the Lawries to have an Ashram as part of the ministry had it's beginning as far back as 1956, when they were on their second Sri Lanka tour at Maruthana Madam. Here they came across an Ashram for both, boys and girls. It was the Chundukuli Ashram, at Jaffna. They liked the way it was functioning, by training young people in the service of God. They thought this was a good idea, but left it at that and waited on God's leading whether to also establish one. About six years later, Mr. Rasiah, Ayyah's father, had some ready cash, earned while he was working in Sri Lanka. His family members and friends advised him to invest part of it in real estate. He bought a piece of land, about 53 acres, near the little town of Mukkudal, in Tirunelveli District, located about 10 miles West of Tirunelveli. At that time, 53 acres was considered quite a large tract of land. Mr. Rasiah put in much labour to make this land yield. There were three wells within the limits and a small mud-banked reservoir to collect the rainwater during the monsoon season. The wells were nearly dry and the rain was scarce. Mr. Rasiah utterly failed to realize even part of his investment in the land. He found himself in a situation that called for a considerable amount of money. His efforts to raise a loan failed, so he wanted to dispose of this land investment which was actually draining his savings. When he searched for a buyer, to his dismay he could only get offers for very much less than his asking price. No one wanted to buy this unproductive piece of land.
This happened when Ayyah was conducting meetings at the S.I.A.A. grounds in Madras, the great campaigns, where thousands attended. When he came to know of his father's plans for getting rid of the land, Ayyah offered to buy it. Mr. Rasiah did not want to sell it to him, maybe thinking it would be bad investment for Ayyah. Suddenly two children of the watchman staying on the land died and this made Mr. Rasiah to realize, it was a mistake for him to refuse to sell this land to his son.
Except for a cattle shed, there were no buildings on this site. The Lawries raised some funds by selling the jewellery people had offered, in token of gratitude for the blessings they experienced in the meetings. From this, the money was given to Mr. Rasiah, to help him tide over his financial difficulties. He in turn gave the 53 acres of land to his son and documented the deal in 1962, to read that it was gifted away for God's work.
They also could buy a jeep from the remainder of these funds. This was the only type of vehicle that could travel the rough terrain in and around the Ashram site. Slowly improvements were made on the land. It was a Herculean task to tame the 53 acres of wild land into a place of habitation. The water in the three wells was inadequate. They were dry for more than six months of the year and water had to be carried in from outside.
Ayyah named this location as 'SathiaNagar,' which means 'City of Truth,' a city in the wilderness. For two years, after acquiring the land, the Lawries still kept their headquarters in Madras where they were continuing to hold vast meetings. They would visit the Ashram now and then.
A one-room apartment was built and dedicated on February 1, 1963. The first person to be entrusted with the physical and spiritual care of the Ashram and it's labourers, was a young man, Brother S. Thomas Wesley. Before leaving his job and offering himself for full time work in the ministry, he had been an Engineer at the Hindustan Aircraft Ltd., Bangalore. He had to endure many hardships and much privation. He had to depend on the roots of the Palmyrah palm and the sweet juice of this palm tree for nourishment. Later, another brother joined him, who looked after poultry farming and bee keeping. Dr. (Miss) Oliver resigned her job and gave herself up for full time work in the ministry. She was a medical officer in the Madras Government at the time of her resignation. She also came to the Ashram.
The team of five put up another small building with three rooms, one for the ladies, one for the visitors and another for general use. Villagers began to attend the prayer meetings in the Ashram and many sick persons came to be prayed for healing. When a regular Bible study program was started, a few young men came to the Ashram and stayed here for the full course. When more people came, cultivation of the fields had to be improved, but water was yet in short supply. At this time Ayyah made a prayer and wonderfully the wells filled and there was an abundance of water. From that time on, God always supplied the water needs. Even in the later years, when thousands of people gathered in the Ashram for Camp meetings, God marvellously supplied all the water needs. With the wells now full, they installed a pump coupled to a diesel engine, making drawing the water a lot easier. Two farmers were hired to cultivate the fields.
In a published article Ayyah spelled out the purpose of the Ashram. He explained that it was established: 'To select workers for villages, train them in the Ashram and send them to villages to preach the gospel, so that the kingdom of God may go on spreading the Light of Jesus Christ from the Ashram, throughout the world. To support the poor and the forlorn, to help rehabilitate reformed prisoners and channelling the burning zeal of youngsters to serve God.' Ayyah wanted to make the volunteers fit for independent work in villages and to pray for the sick and the possessed. Ayyah's deep experiences in Faith Life was an object lesson for these trainees. He desired that the Ashram should be a centre of training for various workers, men and women, to subsequently send them out to work with faith in the villages, not depending on any human resources, but totally committing themselves to God's care. In this wilderness place they provided facilities for such trainees to fast, pray, and meditate.
The inmates of the Ashram were also sent out in the pattern of two by two, to preach the gospel in the surrounding villages. They invariably walked to these villages and had very little money on them, going out into the world with faith and preaching the gospel for a week or so at a time. Returning they witnessed how all their needs were wonderfully met by the Lord. Thus they were able to grow in faith life from strength to strength.
Wherever God's work prospers, the devil has his agents to try and thwart the people engaged in God's work. One such agent was the postmaster of Singam Parai, through whose office the Ashramites had their mails routed. This official, a Roman Catholic, for reasons better known to him, would not cause the delivery of any letters. Even money orders were not delivered but returned to the persons who sent them, with the post master's remarks that there was no institution within his postal range by name Manujothi Ashram. This caused great hardship to the inmates.
Some rich persons, who owned land close to the site, hated the idea of an Ashram there. Trying to hinder the work, they instigated their farm hands to give no peace to the Ashramites. Some even resorted to witchcraft to disrupt the activities of the Ashram. This evil power was persistently trying to project itself into the inmates and thus causing problems. Ayyah then undertook a ten days fast. On the final day of the fast, he took a glass of water after prayer and sat in front of the main building. He was watching two turkeys picking crumbs near there. He prayed that the demon power must be cast out of this Ashram. As he prayed, the two turkeys fell dead. Ever since, there is great relief in the Ashram.
As the Ashram developed, over the years, more land was acquired and more wells were added to the three original wells. A landmark of historical importance is the stone mandapam. (Small open shelter at the entrance to the Ashram.) This is believed to have been built in the days of Rani Mangamma, (about A.D. 1700), who ruled Madurai and its surrounding territories. It was built at that time to give shelter to travellers in her territories. Before a prayer hall was built, this mandapam was used for meditation and prayers. The only other original building on the Ashram lands was a small building that was built for housing animals. This was expanded and made into the first living quarters. This converted cattle shed became the final home of the Lawries, when years later they made the Ashram their permanent home.
Ayyah shifted his headquarters to the Ashram area in 1964. It must be told here how this came about. After Ayyah's return to India in 1960 when the great campaigns began in Madras, his popularity grew to great heights. He was so revered that he could not send his shirts to the laundry, as they would be taken as a prize. Whenever he went to the barber to have his hair cut, his hair was scooped up and kept by others. At this time many of the church leaders who had earlier tried to suppress him now embraced him because of his popularity. Especially some of the Pentecostal churches who baptized in Jesus' Name, because Ayyah received baptism by Bro. Branham in the name of Jesus when he was convinced that it was according to the Bible, and that baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, or the infant baptism were unscriptural. With all this new support from the Christian groups, it looked like the ministry was now a great success.
But this development was not pleasing to God. Ayyah was becoming more and more entwined with the church establishments who wanted to control the meetings. Suddenly one night God spoke to him and told him, if he did not leave Madras immediately He would kill him. Alarmed, the Lawries left Madras immediately and shifted their headquarters to the wilderness Ashram area in the South. This bought a lot of criticism toward him from those who were trying to exploit his popularity in the big meetings. Again the slander against Ayyah started with many false accusations.
The first Camp Meeting to be held at Sathia Nagar, (Manujothi Ashram), was planned for three days, in January 1965. Ayyah wrote, "In faith a big pandal (temporary tent made of bamboo and palm leaves often used for weddings and large gatherings) was put up, and facilities were provided. Against all anticipation and against all the wishes of people who thought nobody would come, large crowds came from different parts of India arriving in buses, jeeps, bullock carts and hand carts. On the last day of the meeting, there was a mighty outpouring of the Holy Ghost. It was found very difficult to end the meetings, since they had been so mightily blessed."
A lady from Madras attending this series had this vivid vision: "On the last day of the meeting at night, when Brother Lawrie was right in front of everybody, the pandal was filled with some kind of smoke.’Why are they burning incense?' I shouted. But suddenly my eyes were opened and I saw the glory of God filling the entire tabernacle, and it surrounded everyone."
In the Ashram the ministry continued to develop. A printing press donated by a supporter played an important role in printing thousands or tracts and millions of campaign notices. Visitors from Germany and Switzerland became interested in the ministry and came from time to time to the Ashram, In one of the camp meetings Brother Ewald Frank, (leader of the Branham groups in Germany) came to India and attended.
As the Ashram grew, new rooms were added. Community living was adopted as the way of life in the Ashram, in fulfilment of Psalm 133:1 "How good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" It was the belief that the communal living helps to take away ‘self-life’, which is a hindrance to spiritual growth.